Remembering Henry Asashi Yamada

By Kirsten Coachman

The Academy of Art University community was devastated to learn of the passing of alumnus and former School of Game Development instructor Henry Asashi Yamada. Born July 23, 1983, Yamada succumbed to an autoimmune disease at the age of 38 on January 1, 2022. Yamada was known for both his passion for visual development as an Academy student and, later, as a thoughtful and encouraging educator.

“Academy of Art University is grateful for having an opportunity to work with Henry,” said Academy President Dr. Elisa Stephens. “We will miss his presence and the inspiration he gave to our students.”

Following his undergraduate studies at the Art Institute of Fort Lauderdale, Yamada arrived at the Academy in 2010 to work towards his master’s degree. His former instructor, School of Game Development Concept Art Lead Michael Buffington, recalled Yamada as a curious and “very cerebral guy.”

“He thought very deeply about everything,” said Buffington, who had Yamada in one of his graduate-level animation classes. “So, every lesson, every lecture, every philosophy, every little trick—everything I taught him—he asked me questions about it. ‘Why are you doing this? And why do we do that? How do we execute this?’ He was one of the most cerebral—one of the most intelligent students that I ever had.”

School of Visual Development and 2-D Animation Director Nicolas Villarreal agreed with that sentiment. “He was laidback, fun, and warm, but he always took his classes very seriously,” Villarreal shared via email. “Henry was very smart. You could tell that he was a professional already since he approached his classes as if he was working in a studio.”

Yamada began taking classes with Villarreal in 2010. Among the things that stood out to the School of Visual Development director about his former student—from his work ethic to his design presentation—at the forefront was Yamada’s willingness to help a fellow student in need. “That is something that I loved about Henry,” explained Villarreal. “He would always try to help his peers, and if he noticed someone struggling with a project, he would offer to help them.”

After wrapping up his graduate studies at the Academy in 2012, Yamada took on different roles over the years, ranging from a cleanup artist for Lab Zero Games and an art director for Heroic-Stand to a lead concept artist for React Games. From Yamada’s home base in Utah, where he resided with his fiancée Alyssa Moncada and their three children, Damien, Henry Asashi, Jr., and Aiyana, he worked as a contract illustrator and graphic designer. In June of 2020, he co-founded Boom Interactive, where he was also an art director. 

In 2017, Buffington invited Yamada to return to the Academy as an online instructor for GAM 608 OL1: Drawing Bootcamp for Games: The Human Figure. The course was one that, up to that point, only Buffington had led because the skills taught are imperative for students’ academic success as they progress in their education.

“I trusted him with my baby, essentially,” said Buffington. “I brought him on to teach, and he did exactly what I thought he was going to do. He did a great job.”

As an instructor, Yamada took part in Drawaholics Anonymous, a group created by Buffington. To become a member of the community, students must complete the 2,500 Challenge. Over the course of a year, they must draw 1,000 heads, 500 legs, 500 arms, 250 hands, and 250 feet. 

“He was a forever student, and the students adored him in Drawaholics Anonymous,” said Buffington. “They would be like, ‘Oh, there’s this cool teacher Henry, and he’s doing the 2,500 with us, and he’s posting in the Discord with us.’”

“He was really active and really doing it,” added Buffington. “And that was such an encouragement to the students.” 

Yamada’s character and dedication to his craft have left an indelible mark on those who had the opportunity to know him. Villarreal and Buffington hope the legacy of his kindness and hard work continues to endure. 

“I hope everyone remembers Henry by the good-hearted person that he was, how professional, talented, and hardworking he was,” said Villarreal. “His passing is a terrible loss to all of us. It was a pleasure to know him.”

“​[Henry] had an undying love and passion for art that drove him to create and work and to try and get better, even when he had already reached some of the highest levels you could reach as a professional and as an artist, and still, he kept grinding,” said Buffington. “He kept working. And so many people get to the top of the mountain, and then they just rest on their laurels, and they become complacent, and then they become stagnant as artists. But Henry was not—if that man would’ve lived in another 20 years, they would’ve been writing about him in books. That’s how special he was.”

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